SMAC! Web Magazine

The Accidental Gaijin: #2 Back to the Future!

 

I travelled back in time today. I travelled back to a time of Saturday morning cartoons, a time of Christmas morning excitement and a time of pure, childhood escapism. With my recent reacquaintance with an old friend in the shape of Kinkeshi, I was keen to explore what other pop-culture delights Japan had to offer. There’s only one place in Tokyo to explore the recesses of my nerdy past, and that’s the impossible world of Mandarake and Nakano Broadway!

As a young comic book enthusiast, I relished my trips to the tiny comic book stand in my hometown. Hidden away in a fruit and veg market, this tiny store was the first place I discovered manga in the form of Otomo sensei’s Akira, Shirō sensei’s Appleseed and Hara sensei’s Fist of the North Star. For me, this modest little stand wasn’t just a place to drink in the stories I thirsted for, but a safe haven from the impossibly difficult challenges of my early teenage years. It was a world I could dive into, an escapist paradise where the troubles of real life could be happily ignored for the price of an hour or too and that week’s pocket money.

 

      

Every character under the sun, including my old friend Kinnikuman.

 

Sadly lacking a DeLorean or Big Blue Police Box to whisk me through time and space, I settled on Tokyo’s bustling artery for my time machine, the Chuo line. A mere five stops from SMAC! HQ in Kichijoji, Nakano Broadway once represented a glittering future for Tokyo. A testament to the post-war boom of the 60’s, this brutalist behemoth was constructed to house the very best in boutique shopping and luxury housing, including a rooftop swimming pool and Japan’s first in-house carpark. But progress can be a cruel mistress, with the rest of Tokyo soon overtaking this quaint glimpse of the future, leaving The Broadway bereft of Tokyo’s “it-crowd” and a bleak future ahead. But “life finds a way”, and with that, Mandarake came to town, bringing with it a host of independent peddlers of curiosity.

 

The gateway to wonder. 

Founded in 1980, Mandarake saw an opportunity to set up shop in the almost deserted hulk of Nakano Broadway. Dealing in pre-owned manga and anime memorabilia, this specialist store not only offered a life line to Tokyo’s legions of manga and anime fans, but gave a beloved building a second chance. Nakano Broadway was once again a talking point. With a staggering 30 outlets in Nakano Broadway alone, Mandarake quickly rose from a small, obscure, second-hand manga specialist to a sprawling, world renowned Mecca of all things otaku.

 

Mandarake’s flagship store, Nakano Broadway. 

My first taste of Mandarake was a welcomed assault to the senses. Frozen in my tracks, I hungrily take in the view as an incalculable range of action figures, in every shape and size imaginable stare back at me. Just the sheer diversity of figurines on display, reflect the vastness of manga and anime. Yes, my old friend Kinnikuman was dotted around, but also a huge range of characters completely new to me. Though largely unknown, these bright, diverse hunks of exquisitely molded plastic had an air of familiarity for me, I was an action figure obsessive as a child! Suddenly I was thrust back into those carefree days of escapism, clutching my carefully saved pocket money as I picked out a heavily armed, mean looking action figure to add to my ever growing collection. With a fond smile, I bid the assortment of heroes and heroines farewell and meandered up to the next level.

 

   

Just a small selection on the manga on offer at Mandarake

If the previous floor was a world of new wonders, then this floor was a world of old friends. Namely, comic books! Taking up almost half the floorspace is the biggest comic book store I’d ever seen. As I tentatively approach this gargantuan maze of manga, I couldn’t help but think of that tiny comic book stand of my youth, stocking it’s limited range of back issues. Mandarake, on the other hand, must stock every manga ever created! Row upon row of comic books stood before me, from carefully, chronologically ordered Tankōbon (単行本, “standalone book”) to gloriously glossy box sets, this store has them all. My Nihongo sadly lacking, I opted to gaze hungrily at the art contained within the pages. Both Akira and Fist of the North Star were there of course, but also thousands of titles I’d never heard of. Filled with equal measures of frustration (I can’t read them!) and excitement (I WILL learn how to read them!), I decided to venture forth to the fourth and final floor.

 

An “Angel Philia”, didn’t catch her name…

Japanese pop culture is beloved around the world, not only for the endless tales told in the form of manga and anime, but for the unique and wonderful oddities that consistently intrigue us. Thus, I entered the final floor of Mandarake’s sprawling empire. Only in Japan could a fascination with dolls turn into an obsession requiring a fierce dedication and bank balance to match. The world of “Angel Philia”, a love of BJD’s (Ball Jointed Doll) deserves an article all of it’s own, but in a nutshell, it’s doll collecting, turned up to 11! Exquisitely crafted and articulated dolls, lovingly woven miniature clothing and wigs that rival Queen B’s, these eerily beautiful effigies are definitely not to be played with. As intimidating and undeniably intriguing they may be, I rush past these pale skinned ‘cadavers’ to the Mandarake department of my dreams…

 

   

Ever felt like you’re being watched?

Saving the best till last, my final experience of Mandarake allowed me to come face to face with my heroes of old. Sitting unobtrusively in the window were the original artwork, anime cells and priceless sketches of the great manga creators of my youth. To not only see, but buy a piece of comic book history is what Mandarake is all about. Not only does this impossibly wondrous store allow you to step back in time, it also allows you to touch history. “The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there”, once wrote the great British novelist, L.P. Hartley, and with Mandarake and Nakano Broadway, we can visit that unknown country, and come home with a souvenir to boot!

 

A mouthwatering selection of cells and sketches for sale…

   

 

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Christopher Tordoff

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